By Barry Janoff
October 12, 2016: LeBron James has been endorsing Sprite since 2003 and is very familiar with the strategies and tactics used to sell the product to the public.
But in its new “Wanna Sprite” integrated marketing campaign, Sprite said it is offering a “refreshingly honest take on endorsements and what it means to be a Sprite endorser.”
Here, James takes the role of passive endorser, relating in an extended spot that “I would never tell you to drink Sprite, even if I was in a commercial for Sprite, which I am . . . Even if you’re just eating tacos with extra hot sauce, and you were holding an extra cold Sprite, and for some reason you’re waiting for me to tell you to drink it, I still wouldn’t tell you to drink that thirst-quenching Sprite.”
The punch line of this sales pitch: "I wouldn't tell you to drink a Sprite — I’d ask you: You wanna Sprite?"
The campaign includes several other celebrities, such as rapper Lil Yachty, actor and TV host Segun Oduolowu, hip-hop artist Vince Staples and a group of other “influencers."
The 60-second spot, “LeBron James Is A Sprite Endorser,” breaks online this week and launches on TV Oct. 17. Several shorter versions also are being released, each featuring a segment of their longer sibling.
Lead agency is Widen & Kennedy, NY.
"@Sprite rolled w/ me since day one,” James wrote on his Twitter page. "Always a pleasure. #JustAKidFromAkron #StriveForGreatness #WannaSprite."
"Our friend LeBron James embodies all the values Sprite supports — authenticity, transparency and individuality," Bobby Oliver, director-Sprite & Citrus Brands, Coca-Cola North America, said in a statement.
"There is no one more fitting than LeBron to star in our new ‘Wanna Sprite’ campaign, which is meant to empower our fans to stay true to their love of the brand and celebrate how delicious, refreshing and thirst-quenching Sprite is," said Oliver.
The campaign, which is scheduled to run into 2017, will "actively engage with its fans in social and digital media and offer them ways to endorse the brand they love,” according to Sprite.
Among other activations, Spirte said it would post original #WannaSprite content featuring James, such as stills, GIFs and cinemagraphs, throughout the campaign.
In addition, the #WannaSprite hashtag will be accompanied by a custom green Sprite bottle Twitter emoji.
According to Danielle Henry, group director, Integrated Marketing Content, Coca-Cola North America, "We created ‘Wanna Sprite’ to have a bit of fun with endorsements. Sprite is being as clear and transparent with the idea of endorsements as the beverage itself.
"The tone of the creative is intended to be fun and lighthearted, while also being authentic and honest — just like our Sprite fans," said Henry.
In his ad segment, “Lil Yachty Is In An Ice Cave Singing A Song About Sprite," the musician is seen playing a piano inside an ice cave covered with bottles of Sprite.
James’ disembodied head (!) enters and, in keeping with the passive sales pitch, explains, “Even if this were a metaphor about Sprite, and I was talking about Sprite, and Lil Yachty here was being paid by Sprite to write lyrics about Sprite" — at which point Lil Yachty changes the lyrics from one of his songs, replacing the chorus "Cold like Minnesota" with "Cold like a Sprite soda" — "I still would’t tell you to drink Sprite."
"Guys. I'm in an ad for @Sprite! I'm not going to tell you to watch it but I'll ask you - WANNA WATCH MY COOL #SPRITEAD? #WannaSprite," Lil Yachty wrote on his Twitter page.
Other shorter spots include "LeBron James Eats Tacos With His Friends And Drinks Spirte, Too" and "You Gotta See How Cool These Influencers Are While They Drink Sprite."
In 2014, the Coca-Cola brand introduced a limited flavor, Sprite 6 Mix, developed in conjunction with James. After winning the NBA title last season, Sprite released a limited-edition can with James on it to celebrate.
Among other efforts, James and Sprite have supported Boys & Girls Clubs, and Sprite released a spot when James returned to Cleveland in 2014, “First Home Game.”
James earns about $54 million in annual endorsements, according to industry analysts, with deals that also include Nike, Kia, Samsung, Beats by Dre and Upper Deck.
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